Reuters International

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari attends the opening session of the second Regional Security Summit in Abuja, Nigeria May 14, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

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By Felix Onuah

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari will on Thursday visit the Niger Delta region, rocked by attacks on oil and gas facilities, for the first time since taking office a year ago, a government official said on Monday.

The visit was announced a day after Buhari said the government would hold talks with leaders in Nigeria's main oil-producing region to address their grievances, in a bid to stop a surge in pipeline attacks.

Buhari will visit a Niger Delta area called Ogoniland to launch a much-delayed programme to clean up areas heavily polluted by oil spills, the official said.

People in the southern swamps, where oil giants such as Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron operate, have for years complained about the oil industry's pollution and about economic marginalisation by the state.

Some have taken up arms, and a surge in attacks on oil installations has cut Nigeria's oil output to a 20-year low.

A militant group called Niger Delta Avengers, which staged several attacks in recent weeks, has accused Buhari, a Muslim from the north, of having never visited the Christian region in the south to hear about local problems.

Local officials and Western allies such as Britain have told Buhari that moving army reinforcements to the Delta would not be enough to stop the attacks and that the population's grievances should be dealt with.

On Thursday, Oil Minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu said an amnesty programme for former militants, signed in 2009 to end a previous insurgency, needed to improve.

The scheme providing cash benefits and job training to those who lay down their arms has had its funding cut by two thirds. Buhari has also upset former militants by ending contracts to protect pipelines, part of a drive to tackle graft.

(Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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